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Death and taxes

When you think your “little” actions don’t make a difference to anyone but yourself, remember this story.

South Dakota does not have a “death tax” or state inheritance tax since a law was passed back in 2000, thanks to two ladies who worked determinedly and got it done.

Our hats go off to a couple of farm and ranch gals who teamed up — literally — and traveled the state to gather signatures in hopes of ridding South Dakota of the state inheritance tax. Glenda Knapp of Wall, S.D., and Gladys Babcock from Creighton, S.D., set out for a lengthy petition drive. The petitions were to get the measure on the ballot. Once the measure was on the ballot and the election was held, the referendum passed by about 80%. Knapp reported, “I never in my wildest dreams thought it would pass with that much of a margin.”



Babcock says she worked diligently when Lyndell Peterson, Rapid City, was in the state legislature to repeal a law that was then on the books. It made a surviving spouse pay inheritance taxes after the death of the other spouse.

In 1997, Knapp’s husband passed away and that got her acquainted with the inheritance laws in South Dakota. She didn’t like what she learned. While talking with Babcock, a former Pennington County commissioner, Knapp approached her about taking on the next step, that of repealing the state inheritance tax, altogether. They learned how to prepare the petitions and off they went.



Babcock mentioned that they so enjoyed seeing the state and meeting the wonderful people. The state is divided roughly in half by the Missouri River and the people are referred to as east or west river residents. Babcock remarked on one difference that she discovered concerning the women. “Most of the middle aged and older east river women would not sign the petition until they asked their husbands. Once he signed, they would sign. West river women, on the other hand, didn’t ask nor wait. They just signed. It stuck me that west river women seem to be more independent.”

Knapp and Babcock heard one horror story after another about how inheritance taxes had devastated families. Each story made them more resolute to see the law changed. They used their own money as well as some donations from individuals and companies. But the most important thing they used belonged only to them — and that was their time. They attended fairs, celebrations, basically any gathering where there would be a good sized crowd to help them along in their signature drive for the petition-driven referendum.

Knapp concluded, “I had never done anything like that before. I certainly never thought I would do this. In the end it was worth it.” The law went into effect July 1, 2001.

Two ranch women decided something should be done — and did it. This reminds us we should never underestimate what we can accomplish if we set our minds to it.

– Sanders is a national award winning columnist and author who can be reached through her website contact link at peggysanders.com.


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Peggy Sanders

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